Jul 29, 2019

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Thoughts from the “People, Power, Purpose: Charting a Course for Equity Conference”

Champions for racial equity convened at Front Range Community College on July 19 to learn how to challenge institutionalized oppression, foster new cross-sector partnerships and provide people with the proper tools to do the work. Titled “People, Power Purpose: Charting a Course for Equity,” the conference was hosted by the Office of Health Equity of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Attendees included people from a variety of backgrounds, such as government agencies, school districts, advocacy organizations, direct service nonprofits, think tanks and philanthropy groups.

The event opened with remarks from Sarah Hernandez from the Office of Health Equity. She described the six bases of social power: legitimate, expert, referent, reward, coercive and informational power, and how they related to racial equity. She also described the difference between transactional power, a short-term gain that leaves a system’s structure in place, and transformational power, a long-term shift in values and political will. A unique component of the conference was the musical performance, performed by 2MX2 and Kid Astronaut. 2MX2 is a Latinx musical group that writes empowering music about problems that affect marginalized communities. Following the musical act, Kim Desmond, the keynote, spoke about the track to equity emphasizing the importance of restoration, revolution and rejuvenation.

Each participant was asked to attend two breakout sessions of their choosing. In the first round of sessions, one titled, “Planning Policies and Actions to Advance Equity,” presented by Susan Wood, Kimberly Ford, and Adam Perkins spoke about a Planning for Equity Policy Guide. The guide is on the American Planning Association’s website.

The presentation was followed by a robust conversation around the role of the community within urban planning. Audience members suggested that input from community members, specifically of people of color, should be introduced during each step of the planning process. This includes before any type of exchange occurs, during the planning, and during the implementation. The conversation also revolved around how organizations set priorities. One audience member stated that unless an organization supports the efforts around racial equity with policy and funding, then the organization does not truly prioritize racial equity. Furthermore, the session reiterated the gap between decision makers and communities, a problem that advocacy groups often face.

Another breakout session titled, “Sharing Power Through Authentic Community Engagement,” detailed a community engagement model utilized by Larimer County. Mandated by the 2008 Public Health Act, each public health agency must create a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). Larimer County’s strategy to advance health equity — based on the Center for Disease Control’s framework — includes identifying social conditions of health inequities, assessing community readiness, sharing power with the community, analyzing relevant data, and reviewing how the changes affect the community. Larimer County created a decision-making body comprised of community members called The Healthy Larimer Committee, in which shares lived experience inform strategies for the Health Department and serves as the governing body that implements Larimer’s CHIP implementation. The members were selected by the Health Department through an application and an interview process. The Department focused on recruiting members of diverse backgrounds who live in Larimer County and are likely to be affected by decisions made by the department. The monthly convenings include childcare, food and the members are provided with a stipend and professional development opportunities. As CCLP dives deeper into community engagement, studying other models that have been successful, even if tailored toward local governments, this approach can help inform the strategy and promote success.

Overall, the conference directly aligned with CCLP’s focus on racial equity. As the organization moves forward through the racial equity journey, spending time in spaces with other champions is paramount to the work. The Office of Health Equity provided a glossary of terms to establish common language around equity.

Although the action steps provided by the Office are specifically targeted for community organizers and government organizations, they have significant relevance to advocacy organizations like CCLP in building a more equitable Colorado.

– By Christina Yebuah

Recent articles

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.